By Franz Scheurer
One of Scotland’s whisky regions, Campbeltown is also the only township of any size on the Kintyre peninsula, the long, green finger pointing towards Ireland and the southern-most point on the West Coast. It has been a haven for illicit distillers for centuries, and some even suggest that this is the place where distilling first arrived with the Gaels from Ireland in the 6th century.
Campbeltown certainly was one of the first commercial centres for distilling, and the Campbeltown whiskies rivaled the reputation of Speyside in the late 1800’s, when 34 distilleries produced over 2 million gallons of spirit per year. Today all that is left are two distilleries: Springbank and Glen Scotia. The fact that Campbeltown even now is still considered a separate production centre no doubt pays homage to its glorious past.
Springbank, built around 1828 on the site of Archibald Mitchell’s illicit still (his descendants own and control the distillery to this day), produces a most distinguished whisky, described as 'Premier Grand Cru Classé' by the London Sunday Times following a tasting in 1983. It is one of the most traditional distilleries still in operation. One of the last remaining independent family-owned and run distilleries, the original buildings are still being used and they operate their own malting floor (using organic barley). Even boatskin larch washbacks are still used daily and they still cut their own peat. The unique wash still is heated directly by oil-fired steam coils and they still employ an old fashioned copper 'rummager' to prevent solids scorching in the base of the still. Springbank operates 3 stills and distill their spirit 3 times (or maybe 2 ½ times as only the feints of the first distillation are distilled once more). This, Springbank claims, makes the final product milder.
Springbank produces 2 whiskies (both using water from Crosshill Loch): the Springbank, one of the word’s most sought after whiskies (especially in Japan); and the Longrow, which in any blind tasting would probably be falsely recognized as an Islay. Springbank is a relatively light bodied dram with a lot of style, depth and poise. It benefits greatly from age. Longrow is peaty, in your face and unfortunately far too hard to get.
Springbank is offered as a 10, 12, 15, 21 and 30 y/old, all at 46% and a 12 y/old at 57.5%. Occasionally you see single barrel bottlings, so far a 1958, 1962 and 1967 have been released. One of the best examples has to be the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask No. 27.38 distilled in November 1965, bottled in June 1996 at 58.5% cask strength. Springbank whiskies are traditionally full-flavoured and full-bodied whiskies, famous for their depth, mouth-feel and the slightly salty tang in the finish. Often referred to as "'The Hector of the West', the deepest voice in the choir".
Longrow is released as a 16 and 18 y/old, both distilled in 1974 at 46% and a 1997 distillate will be released as a 10 y/old after 2007. Longrow was originally a near-by distillery and its remaining buildings are now used as a bottling plant. Contrary to Springbank, Longrow is always smoked over a generous amount of peat and always distilled twice.
Glen Scotia was first registered as a distillery in 1835, but has had a somewhat undocumented career and changed hands frequently. Thoroughly overhauled in 1980, it was shut down in 1984 and eventually re-opened in 1989 but soon threatened again and only a management buy-out kept it open. A company called Gibson was formed, which promptly went bankrupt as well in 1994 and once again the lights were turned off at Glen Scotia. The assets of the second last distillery in Campbeltown were eventually purchased by Glen Catrine but the distillery remains closed. It is believed that the ghost of a former owner who drowned in the nearby Campbeltown Loch continues to haunt the place.
Glen Scotia is released as a 14 y/old, 40%. Old stock from the former owners, released through A. Gillies & Co is still available, released as an 8 and 12 y/old.
Glen Scotia’s whiskies are fresh, mild, medium bodied and slightly salty reminiscent of sea mist.